When you hear the name Jeep, the first thing that comes to mind is massive off-road capability, powerful engines, and an aggressive aesthetic – but the Grand Cherokee is also a family-friendly SUV that does well ferrying your kids to school. But is it better than the old-school Toyota Highlander that’s been around for years and repeatedly tops best-sellers lists?
The Jeep Grand Cherokee is a handsome SUV with powerful engines that are not fuel-efficient. It can handle off-roading better than the Toyota Highlander but is not as spacious in terms of passenger or cargo space. The Highlander seats up to eight passengers, and while pricing is similar for both these SUVs, the Toyota Highlander offers more value for money.
When comparing these two icons, it may seem overwhelming to weigh up which is the better all-rounder. Let’s take a closer look at what each has to offer.
On The Outside
Muted styling is the hallmark of a Toyota, and that’s no different here. Modern styling cues come into play in the rear, with sharply angled taillights and a rear spoiler, while the front hosts LED projector lights. Wheels range in size from 18 inches to 20, and a power tilt-and-slide moonroof comes standard at the more expensive end of the range.
By contrast, the Jeep Grand Cherokee looks much more aggressive with the signature seven-slot grille and contemporary exterior design. Smaller 17-inch wheels come equipped to entry-level models, although you can have 20-inch alloys, a dual-pane sunroof, and gloss black exterior trim if you want.
Not the best area to judge on, aesthetics aren’t what make an SUV, although, in this department, the Jeep certainly takes the lead.
Seating and Upholstery
SUVs like these are designed to carry passengers, and one area in which the Highlander excels is that you can seat up to eight passengers. Typical of three-row SUVs, though, is that the rear-most seats aren’t comfortable or spacious and are best reserved for the kids. Still, the Highlander offers more space in the first two rows than what the Jeep Grand Cherokee does.
And, since the Highlander will probably be mainly used for ferrying the kids around, the base models come standard with fabric upholstery, with faux leather and genuine hide available on upper trims. Heated and ventilated front seats come fitted to upper-tier models, while the top-of-the-range Platinum trim has heated second-row seats, too.
The Grand Cherokee has much more executive appeal than the family-friendly Highlander, although it also has cloth upholstery in the entry-level trims with leather and even perforated leather available on the top-spec variants. It only seats five, with no option for a third row.
Practicality and versatility are the forte of the SUV segment, and in this regard, the Highlander and Grand Cherokee couldn’t be more different. While the Toyota SUV has a third row, 48.4 cubic feet of cargo space is available when you fold it down – this is much more than the 36.3 cubic feet on offer behind the back row in the Grand Cherokee. And, if you stow all the seats in both vehicles, the comparison is even more startling: around 84 cubes in the Highlander to the 68.3 cubic feet in the Grand Cherokee.
The Highlander is the best if you prize packing space above all else – and, if you have the third row in use, you still have 16 cubic feet available for your weekly grocery shop.
Features And Infotainment
Despite being around for many years, the Highlander has been kept fresh and updated with modern technology. As such, it comes with three-zone climate control, numerous USB ports and power outlets, and power adjustment for the driver’s seat. Higher up in the range, you also get a power tailgate, power moonroof, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror with a universal transceiver for garage doors.
At the top of the range, you get heated and ventilated front seats in the Highlander, as well as heating for the second row and a nifty integrated microphone near the driver that allows passengers in the back to hear what is being said up front. A head-up display and surround-view camera come standard at this level, too.
Jeep equips the Grand Cherokee generously as well, although it only has dual-zone climate control in comparison. A heated steering wheel, heated front seats, and parking assist come equipped with the top-end models.
In terms of infotainment, the Jeep has a seven-inch infotainment screen in base models, which is upgraded to 8.4 inches on upper-tier models. Six speakers are standard fitment, but a nine-speaker Alpine setup and a posh 19-speaker Harman Kardon unit are available, too.
Even in base trim, the Highlander has a more prominent infotainment display at eight inches, while the best of the best gets a large 12.3-inch screen. Optional upgrades to the standard six speakers here include an 11-speaker JBL setup.
Under The Hood
Curb weights for the Toyota Highlander range from just over 4,000 pounds to around 4,600 lbs. while the Jeep Grand Cherokee tips the scales at over 5,200 lbs. To move sizable hunks like these, powerful engines are required.
Engine And Performance
What’s great about the latest Toyota Highlander is that there is some choice between a naturally aspirated 3.5L V6 gas engine with 295 hp and 263 lb.-ft of torque and a hybrid engine setup that makes a combined 243 hp. The Highlander comes with an eight-speed automatic transmission that feels perfectly suitable for day-to-day driving with the gas motor.
Not built for lightning-fast take-offs, the Highlander can still make it to 60 mph in under seven seconds and can tow around 5,000 lbs. The hybrid versions are a little slower to hit the benchmark sprint at 7.3 seconds and lose some towing capacity, only managing 3,500 lbs.
Under the hood of the Grand Cherokee, you will find two options, too, but both here are gasoline only. A 3.6-liter V6 with 295 hp and 260 b-ft, or a 5.7-liter V8 that makes 360 hp and 390 lb.-ft. Neither of these power plants can beat the Highlander in a sprint, but there is more capacity to tow – 6,200 lbs. with the V6 and 7,200 lbs. with the V8.
Piloting an SUV is not supposed to feel sedan-like, but both these behemoths have a powerful yet precise feel. Toyota has made the Highlander nimble for a large vehicle, and it’s comfortable for the passengers. It manages some light off-roading too and isn’t overly complicated for the driver to maneuver.
Jeep has a long history of off-roading, so naturally, the Grand Cherokee is more suited to taking on rougher terrain. It comes with proper 4X4 systems and rugged underpinnings but feels less comfortable than the Highlander on the road. It tends to be a little more stoic in the handling department.
At The Pumps
With big displacement engines like these, one cannot reasonably expect frugality in terms of fuel economy. And, with a hybrid alternative in the Highlander lineup, there should be some reprieve from high gas bills. The EPA rates that the gas-fed Highlander will manage 21/29/24 mpg across city/highway/combined cycles while adding all-wheel drive will see those figures drop by a point or two.
For those who are eco-conscious or just want to decrease money spent at the pumps, the hybrid Highlander offers 36/35/36 mpg – a brilliant rating for a large, heavy car like this.
In comparison, the Grand Cherokee’s gas mileage figures are woeful, with the most efficient model managing only 19/26/21 mpg and the V8 version chugging away at a rate of 14/22/17 mpg. A large 24.6-gallon gas tank means that you’ll be able to drive around 400 miles before needing to refuel the V8-powered Grand Cherokee.
Technology isn’t just limited to audio systems and touchscreens, and safety aids and driver assists are vital, especially in family haulers like these. In this regard, the Highlander is praise-worthy for a comprehensive safety suite that includes eight airbags, pre-collision support, road sign assist, lane departure alert, radar cruise control, and automatic high beam lights.
When grading the safety of the Highlander, the NHTSA awarded an overall five stars. The Jeep Grand Cherokee didn’t fare quite as well, only earning four stars. There are seven airbags aboard the Jeep, with blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and a rearview camera as standard. For more, you’ll need to add options at a cost.
Jeep is seen as a more premium brand, and for this reason that prices are expected to be higher. With a wide variety of models to choose from, pricing ranges from around $35k through to $53k before adding options.
But the Toyota Highlander’s models are priced in the same ballpark, including the gas-saving hybrid variant. There’s much more car to be had from the Toyota stable for the price, though.
And The Winner Is…
In this comparison, many would naturally gravitate towards the more premium and ferocious Jeep – it looks the part and has monstrous power under the hood. But it guzzles gas and is not quite as spacious in the cabin as the Highlander is. And, for the same price, you get many more features and a higher safety rating from the Highlander.
So, despite the aging design and less extravagant nameplate, the Highlander remains the best bet here.
Car and Driver: 2021 Toyota Highlander
US News: Is the Toyota Highlander a Good SUV?
US News: Jeep Grand Cherokee
Car and Driver: 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration